By BRADEN LAMMERS
The first attempt to pass Jeffersonville’s 2013 salary ordinance failed at a special meeting Monday night.
Changes made to the salary ordinance at the City Council’s meeting last week remained intact, but a change in who supervises the city’s communications director caused the first motion to fail.
The vote was 3-6, with Councilmen Zach Payne, Bryan Glover and Matt Owen voting to keep the communications director position under the mayor’s office. The second motion placed the position under the control of Parks Director Paul Northam.
The salary ordinance passed 6-3, with Payne, Glover and Owen voting against, on its second and third readings.
Following the meeting Councilman Nathan Samuel said the change is designed to have the communications director focus on broader issues.
But before the vote was taken council members said they were told differing opinions about whether or not Communications Director Leah Farris was OK with the move to the parks department.
Calls made to Communications Director Leah Farris were not returned as of press time, but she did offer a response in an email sent to the News and Tribune.
“I have no problem with the move in theory,” she wrote. “Regardless of where my position falls officially under the salary ordinance, I will continue to remain committed to ensuring that the people of Jeffersonville are informed in a proactive manner, and that the mayor, city council, court and clerk, as well as all city departments, are represented equally and without political bias or favor.”
The feeling of the council members was much clearer.
“The communications director should not be in the parks department no more than the city’s fire chief should be in the parks department,” said Councilman Matt Owen. “That is an administrative role. It’s an office that encompasses city communications, not park communications.”
Council President Ed Zastawny said the position is fairly new to the city and the role is still being refined from when it was introduced under the previous administration.
“One of the concerns of the council at that time was ... this is not [the mayor’s] communications director, it’s the city’s communications director,” he said.
Councilman Dennis Julius pointed to Mayor Mike Moore’s initial plan that did not include a communications director, but instead to have the city’s attorneys help fill the role.
Zastawny offered concerns about changes in the city’s newsletter that previously was one of the primary tasks for the communications director.
“I think there has been some frustration in how that newsletter has gone out because it hasn’t been as big, as glossy — it hasn’t focused on some of the other projects and it has focused on the mayor a little more than some people would have liked. What I think we were trying to do as a council is find a way to get the communications director a little bit further away from the mayor with the hope that she could try to spread herself equally over all of the departments including parks,” he said.
Farris’ response pointed to the move some may view as political, but downplayed its impact.
“There has been some talk that the move, while initiated as a means to make my position more effective and well balanced, could be pretext to a political agenda aimed at limiting the mayor’s ability to rely more heavily than other departments or office holders on my office for the promotion of his own initiatives,” she wrote. “While the mayor is the face of Jeffersonville and many of his initiatives drive our daily communications, our long term plan is to integrate a comprehensive city communications and marketing plan that factually reflects all areas of city government.”
But Owen, and the others that offered dissenting votes said the council should not be dictating for whom a city employee is working.
“I just don’t feel like it’s our decision to designate who people work for,” he said.
Zastawny said the only change in the role is in direct management of the position.
“Ultimately, she still reports to the mayor through the parks director,” he said.
As for the future of the position, Farris and other city employees are treading lightly.
“Both the mayor and the majority of the city council have been supportive in working through this ... however at times myself and others have been apprehensive and fearful, as there has been talk for months of eliminating positions within the mayor’s office and redevelopment staff,” Farris wrote. “I can assure you that while we are engaged in our duties, at times we’re proceeding with caution in terms of navigating the political environment that is secondary to the nature of our work.”
Changes that remained in the salary ordinance for next year included a full-time kennel attendant for the J.B. Ogle Animal Shelter that would total about $27,000; a full-time human resources generalist for the city’s Human Resources Department that would total about $39,000; a request to increase the pay grade, up one grade, for a deputy clerk in the city clerk’s office; and a request to add two police chaplains at $1 per year.